Once upon a time, the people who ran international motorsport had strength of character and a sense of moral duty.
For instance, following the 1985 South African Grand Prix, then-FIA President Jean-Marie Balestre said that Formula One would not continue to race in that country because of the policy of apartheid.
Only after apartheid ended, in 1991, did F1 return.
Earlier this year, thousands of protesters followed the lead of revolutionaries in Tunisia and Egypt and tried to force change in Bahrain. At least five people were killed in the demonstrations.
The F1 race there, originally scheduled to start the season in mid-March, was postponed. Not cancelled, just postponed. This followed the declaration of a three-month state of emergency in the country.
That state of emergency has now been lifted but security is reportedly still very tight in the country. The FIA reacted to this wonderful bit of news by putting the Grand Prix back on the 2011 calendar in late October.
This is like waving a red flag in front of a bull. Does anybody, in their right mind, not think the arrival of the F1 crowd will not result in more demonstrations?
Boy, if you want to attract the attention of the world, just bring F1 to town and then start the revolution!
It’s so many years ago that people forget but Castro and the boys kidnapped World Champion Juan Fangio back in 1958 on the eve of the Cuban Grand Prix. They didn’t hurt him, but their revolutionary rhetoric, which was not taken very seriously by anybody at that point, suddenly became front page news in South America and Europe.
Many within F1 are appalled by the Bahrain decision – privately and otherwise. Rubens Barrichello is asking for assurances that it will be safe for the drivers to go. Mark Webber wrote on his website that, "In my personal opinion, the sport should have taken a much firmer stance earlier this year . . . It would have sent a very clear message about F1’s position on something as fundamental as human rights and how it deals with moral issues. . . "
And former president Max Mosley, writing in the Daily Telegraph, said: "Surely the line has to be drawn when a sporting event is not mere entertainment in a less-than-perfect country, but is being used by an oppressive regime to camouflage its actions.
"If a sport accepts this role, it becomes a tool of government. . ."
Of course the teams, and the drivers, are caught in a bind. The teams have contracts with F1 and now that the race is back on the caledar, they have to show up. And if the teams opt to go, the drivers have to go.
Gone are the days when a guy like Gilles Villeneuve could say, "I’m not going to do that," and half the grid would stand down with him.
It’s a changed world, and you can bet there will be no "Arab Spring" in Formula One.
Of course, saner heads could eventually prevail (has anybody noticed what's happening today in Yemen?). The people in charge – Jean Todt and Bernie Ecclestone – could still come to their senses (ha!) and call it off.
But don’t count on it.
Isn’t it a shame that our race, the Grand Prix of Canada, will take to Circuit Gilles-Villeneuve in Montreal in four days, and yet the focus of the media in the days leading up to it will be on politics, rather than on the wonderful season that Sebastien Vettel is having?